Sunday, April 13, 2008

Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith

Crown Duel

Crown Duel
by Sherwood Smith

Mass Market Paperback: 480 pages
Publisher: Firebird Fantasy
First Released: 2002

Source: Bought from

Back Cover Blurb:
Battle on and off the field, with sword and fan, with might and manners...

It begins in a cold and shabby tower room where young Countess Meliara swears to her dying father that she and her brother will defend their people from the growing greed of the king. That promise leads them into a war for which they are ill-prepared, a war that threatens the homes and lives of the very people they are trying to protect.

But war is simple compared to what follows, when the bloody fighting is done and a fragile peace is at hand. Although she wants to turn her back on politics and the crown, Meliara is summoned to the royal palace. There she soon discovers that friends and enemies look alike and intrigue fills the dance halls and the drawing rooms. If she is to survive, Meliara must learn a whole new way of fighting--with wit and words and secret alliances. In war, at least, she she whom she could trust. Now she can trust no one...

This book was originally published as two books: Crown Duel and Court Duel. While this is a traditional fantasy, Meliara isn't a very good swordwoman and mainly relies on her wits and the friendships she builds. The first book centers around a war, so there is a good bit of fighting and running. In the second book mainly focuses on court intrigue and has very little swordplay.

The worldbuilding is strong, and the culture is unique. Meliara is a bit exasperating at times in the first book, but that's fixed in the second book. The characters are engaging, and the pacing is good. There are no sex scenes, but there is kissing. In the second book, there is some traditional magic wielded by the villain. I'd rate this as "good, clean fun."

Excerpt: Chapter One
The broken shutter in the window creaked a warning. I flung myself across the table, covering as best I could my neat piles of papers, as a draft of cold wind scoured into the room. Dead leaves whispered on the floor, and the corners of my moat of papers rustled. Something crashed to the floor behind me. I turned my head. It was the soup bowl I'd set that morning on an old, warped three-legged stool and promptly forgotten.

The rotted blue hanging in the doorway billowed, then rippled into quiescence. The whispers and rattles in the room stilled, and I sat up with care and looked at the bowl. Could it be mended? I knew Julen would be angry with me. Julen was the blacksmith's sister, and the mother of my friend, Oria. After my mother died she looked after me, and she had of late taken over cooking for us. Crockery was hard to come by these days.

I reached for the pieces, my blanket ripped--and cold leaked up my arm.

I sat back on my cushion, staring down in dismay at the huge tear at my elbow. I did not look forward to the darning task ahead--but I knew that Julen would give me one of those looks she was so good at and calmly say that practicing my darning would teach me patience.


The voice was Bran's. He tapped outside the door, then lifted the hanging. "Meliara, it's time to go see Papa."

Ordinarily, Branaric never called me Meliara, but I was too distracted to notice right then.

"Bran!" I leaped to my feet. "I did it--just finished! Look!" I pulled him into the room, which had once been a kind of parlor for the servants, back when the castle had had plenty of servants. Pointing proudly at the table, I said, "I know how to cheer Papa, Bran. I've found us a way to pay this year's taxes! It's taken me two days, but I really believe I have it. It'll buy us another year--you know we need another year. Look," I babbled, stooping down to tap each pile of papers. "Every village, every town in Tlanth, and what it has, what it owes, and what it needs. Not counting the gold we set aside for our Denlieff mercenaries--"


I looked up, my mouth still moving; but when I saw the stricken look in Bran's eyes, all the plans fled from my mind...

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